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New Central Library Taking Shape

More than 35 years ago, San Diego began planning for a new central library downtown. Construction began in 2010 on the nine-story, 255-foot building being erected on Park Boulevard near Petco Park.

“It’s very unusual for a local architect to be awarded a building of this significance,” said Rob Quigley, the San Diego architect who was granted the contract to design the library. “So that was really special, it meant this was my library as well.”

The library will be replacing the current downtown central library on E Street built in 1954 to serve a population of 466,000 San Diegans. The new library space will double in size to nearly 300,000 square feet. It will house 1.25 million items and more than 400 computers.

“We were asked to do a building that looks to future, but respects our past. And so when we asked San Diegans what do you mean by past they said ‘well like the buildings in Balboa Park,’” Quigley said. He was part of the team that held community planning meetings looking for input. “The idea of the dome came from a series of workshops that we held in ’97. It was meant to tie back to Balboa Park and the buildings that are part of the history of San Diego and so we learned from those buildings… one was, studying the botanical garden building and so this dome is an outgrowth, inspired by that building.”

At the top of the building will be a three-story reading room. The dome will have eight “sails” with perforated panels to provide shading. The reading room is also a 64-foot cube identical to the lobby below. There will also be a 400-seat multipurpose room with a view of downtown and the bay on the eighth floor.

“As great as this building looks, and as amazing as it’s going to be as a community gathering place, this is really about the people that it’s going to serve,” said Mel Katz, chair of the San Diego Library Foundation. “Inside the library on two floors are going to be 500 students in a high school. Our children’s section is over 10,000 square feet and our teen center is over 6,000 square feet.”

Despite the abundance of information in the digital age, people are still visiting libraries. In the last year, people visited the counties' libraries more than 6 million times.

“In my mind there’s kind of an ironic phenomenon happening, that in this digital age, with Facebook and everything else, there’s instant communication, and one would think that libraries would become less important, and its actually been the opposite,” Quigley said. When construction began, they had planned to have every desk in the library wired for Internet connectivity. Now the building is just one big Wi-Fi hotspot.

“This library is more than just a warehouse for books, it is that, but it’s so much more than that. The modern library is really the common ground for all San Diegans, it’s the one place where we’re all equal and we can all go to. And it will have resources that aren’t available anywhere else in the community,” said Quigley.

“This library will change this community, will change this entire San Diego region, and, more than anything, will change the people that use it,” added Katz.

For more on the new Central Library's history see this report.

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